May 1, 2008
By Darren Shimp
Flash back to the summer of 2007, where Eagle hammer thrower Nicole Luckenbach was working hard in the weight room and running, gaining the edge for her next season. She was aiming to improve upon her personal best distance, peeking from outside the school's top-ten list.
Fast forward to April 2008 at EWU's Pelluer Invitational, and Luckenbach dazzles the competition with her meet-record throw of 178 feet, 4 inches, just a few feet from Eagle history. Julie Nielson holds the EWU record with a throw of 182-8 in 2001.
"I don't think I'll make it this year, but next year I definitely plan on going to nationals," said Luckenbach. "I'm going for the school record this year. That's my goal."
What a difference a year makes.
Luckenbach, a redshirted sophomore from Snohomish, Wash., had only just begun throwing the hammer three years ago. The hammer throw is not even a high school event, where she threw discus and shot.
"She was our best freshman thrower ever," said Eagle women's track and field head coach Marcia Mecklenburg. "You kind of knew through the course of her freshman season that she was going to be a good hammer thrower. She picked it up very quickly and got the technique down."
One benefit Luckenbach had was a convenient connection from her high school track squad.
"My coach my senior year had graduated from the University of Oregon and she knew how to throw the hammer," said Luckenbach. "She started teaching me the summer before I came here. All throwers try the hammer when they get to college. If they do alright, they stay in it."
Apparently she has done "alright," as her results from Pelluer qualified her for the 2008 NCAA West Regional Championships (May 30-31), to be held in Northridge, Calif., later this month. If she finished in the top five there, she would qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships (June 11-14), held in Des Moines, Iowa.
The hammer throw was unique to the rest of the events for the Pelluer, as it was actually not held at Woodward Field, but in a ring to the west of Reese Court. Not many got to see Luckenbach in action, as the hammer throw is her sole event.
"I love that it's my only event. I get more time to focus on it - practice it four days a week," said Luckenbach. "Most people only practice two days a week per event."
Luckenbach attributes the recent hammer success to the hard work put in off the field.
"I do a lot of lifting and sprints -- the faster you are, the farther you throw," said Luckenbach, who has been doing a majority of her training with fellow thrower Aimee Carroll. "It's all about speed and strength."
Having a lifting partner has been synergistic, as they are able to pick each other up when the other is having a bad day.
"They really hooked it up in practice, and that has really helped," said Mecklenburg. "They trained all summer long, throwing all summer long and in the weight room pushing each other."
Off the field and away from the weight room, Luckenbach is pursuing an elementary education, health and fitness degree.
Where could she see herself 10 years down the road?
"Starting a family, teaching and coaching somewhere on the Oregon or Washington coast," said Luckenbach.
In the meantime, she currently works as a cocktail waitress during events at The Big Easy Concert House in Spokane.
She got her drive and passion for success from her father, Gary Luckenbach, a real estate agent living in Mill Creek, Wash., a few miles north of Seattle.
Her parents split when she was a second grader. She moved out of her mom's house, and into her dad's, when she was 16.
"I'm a very lucky girl. Growing up, my mom and I didn't get along very well and he was always there to help me with the situation," said Luckenbach. "He always pushed me to achieve what I wanted and told me there are no limitations."
"He has helped me stay strong."
Despite being 278 miles away from Cheney, Luckenbach's dad has stayed active in his daughter's life.
"He is always there for her. When I was recruiting her in high school, he was at the state meet watching her throw," said Mecklenburg. "He emails me with excitement about how well she's doing."
However, the excitement does not end with the hammer results.
"He's very excited about (me becoming a teacher)," said Luckenbach. "Out of my immediate family I am the first one to go to college (she does have one cousin on her dad's side that completed college). It makes him happy."
Luckenbach has the remainder of this season to accomplish her short-term goals. This weekend she will travel to Irvine, Calif., for the Steve Scott Invitational (May 3), followed by the Big Sky Conference Championships held in Sacramento (May 14-17). The ceiling for her success is unlimited.
"I think she will be our first woman 200-plus foot hammer thrower," said Mecklenburg. "The Big Sky has had a couple, but that would probably lead the conference if she throws that far."
"She has been a real blessing to the program."